Pros:Some unusual plot devices...
Cons:Really bad acting, bad writing, no actual scary elements...
The Bottom Line: There is an audience for Stay Alive. They are on average 14 years old. Adults will find the movie to be very boring and not in the least bit horrific.
Video games in movies don't have a great track record. All the way back to Tron, the plot device has been a failure. In recent years we've seen the creation and destruction of games like House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark, Doom, and BloodRayne. There are a few exceptions to this rule--Silent Hill and the Resident Evil series are both good. But what about movies that are actually crafted around the idea of a game? Tron was of course the first, but also titles like eXistenz, The Last Starfighter, and Brainscan have attempted very diverse but still similar use of games. One recent movie in this category is the dismal Stay Alive.
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Set in New Orleans, Stay Alive (directed by William Brent Bell, 2006) deals with a particularly deadly video game. It opens with Loomis Crowley (Milo Ventimiglia). He is a game tester and has just finished playing a bootleg game he claims is the sickest thing he's seen since Fatal Frame. The concept is simple--stay alive as long as possible. Unfortunately the game actually becomes real and poor Loomis ends up dying in the same exact way as his character. His friend Hutch (Jon Foster) soon discovers this to be the case--after another untimely death.
From there Hutch and his friends set out to stay alive in real life and to figure out how to stop the game from killing. At the center of the mystery is the legend of Elizabeth Bathory. She enjoys killing people in the most brutal and bizarre ways possible. She's particularly fond of old fashioned murder. It is this legend that actually fuels the anger of the game. Stay Alive also stars Samaire Armstrong, Jimmi Simpson, Sophia Bush, and Frankie Muniz. The plot is unremarkable which makes writing a review and talking about it very difficult. There are no real surprises--people play the game and people die. The game crosses over to commit these acts of violence. The acting is not convincing either. Muniz and Simpson have annoying characters. I like Armstrong and Foster's work but I don't actually care about their characters and whether they manage to survive.
The actual use of the game in the movie is what is most interesting. While it wasn't particularly surprising, it is unique. I like that the plot attempts to connect fantasy and reality--and that games can be more than mere entertainment in the hands of the wrong person or people. I also think Stay Alive is vaguely entertaining. I managed to stay awake and it made me jump a few times but didn't actually scare me. This is supposed to be horror and horror is supposed to be frightening. The truth is that since it is so out of the realm of possibility and the characters seem so unrealistic I can't connect it to any part of my life. It's not fantastic enough on one hand and not real enough on the other. I feel no real connection to any of the characters and actually find some of them ridiculous. Come on--LOOMIS CROWLEY? Yeah, that's original.
Stay Alive is rated PG-13. Not all horror movies with this rating lack scares, but this one does. And to add insult to injury, there is very little as far as sex, drugs, gore, violence, and even language. It's a weird piece of film. In the end, I think it takes itself far too seriously. Had there been intentional laughs, more use of the video game sequences (they don't look real, but they shouldn't), more horror, and better acting it wouldn't have been such a failure.
I didn't go into Stay Alive thinking it would be terrible. There are certainly worse things out there, but the level of cheese here is pretty amazing. I guess if you were like 12 years old and watching a horror movie for the first time this could work. If you have seen hundreds of horror movies and want something new and interesting good luck staying awake during Stay Alive. By the way, Bathory was based on a real murderer, too bad she didn't resurrect herself in a video game. That would be interesting.
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